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Kinetic Coppélia Captures Florida

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
03/30/2012 -  & March 31*, April 1 (Miami), 13-15 (Palm Beach), 2012
Léo Delibes: Coppélia
The Miami City Ballet: Mary Carmen Catoya (Swanilda), Reyneris Reyes (Franz), Didier Bramaz (Dr. Coppélius), Yann Trividic (Burgomaster), Sara Esty (Dawn), Emily Bromberg (Prayer), Jennifer Lauren (Spinner), with soloists and corps of the Miami City Ballet
Opus One Orchestra, Gary Sheldon (Conductor)
Jean Rosenthal (Scenic Design), Karinska/Irene Sharif/Holly Hynes/Norma Kamali (Costume Design), John Hall/Jean Rosenthal/Mark Stanley/Jennifer Tipton (Lighting Design)

M. C. Catoya (Courtesy of MCB)

Full length story ballet is not something suited to every ballet lover’s taste, particularly to those of us who were weaned on the Balanchine repertory. Those who have seen Coppélia before with different choreography might not be so eager to try this one. But of the several I have seen, this one is by far the most entertaining and involving. There are even some decent laughs. Bottom line - this one is fun. If you have friends who say that they hate ballet but have never been, trust me, send them to see this Coppélia and they will thank you. In a not so unusual way Coppélia is reminiscent of The Nutcracker only this ballet’s story is much more involving and funny before the dance fireworks take over. Of course all of this is a lot easier when you are witnessing a company as great as Miami City Ballet. And this performance most certainly was not an exercise in ballet stuffiness. Only the snootiest would not be cheering by the end and laughing during.

Act One is a typically cheerful day as two young lovers meet, inspire jealousy and simply enjoy country life among the happy peasants. Can any other Miami City Ballet dancer inhabit the role of Swanilda like the bright-smiling Mary Carmen Catoya? Besides the brilliance of her dancing and the stunningly effortless line she repeatedly demonstrates, Catoya understands that the secret to making this ballet work as well as it can is to not take it overly seriously. Her Swanilda is a sexy tomboy who, though knowing her man is a flirt, knows more importantly that she can easily outsmart him. The joke she eventually plays is for fun, not vengeance. Reyneris Reyes is a suitably handsome Franz. His Franz is no idiot; but since the guy does take some pretty overt and not-so-smart chances to meet Coppélia, he is, like any teenager, not always thinking with his head. Though it is never complimentary to comment on a dancer’s imprecision, Reyes’ minor unsteadiness almost seems appropriate for this character.

The choreography is what distinguishes Coppélia from many of the overly offered classics. It maybe only sags with too many attempts to resuscitate the drunken Franz the second act. But there are so many hilarious moments like intoxicating Franz, Coppélius’ mild lechery of his female automaton and handing Swanilda a fan when she begins demonstrating her terpsichorean talents that we are always waiting for yet another stunt. And they are all good ones.

Another plus that makes this Coppélia so memorable is the quality of the acting; yes, the acting. Catoya’s doll walk is so confident that she has the audience responding as if she were a vaudeville comedienne. Reyes tosses off his quick kiss to Coppélia with the foresight that he is going to be getting the gasps from even the highest reaches of the balcony. And Didier Bramaz offers a Dr. Coppélius who is not just an old man but one with an edge of danger. He may be doddering, but he is also fearless as he makes the young people’s intrusion into his home not unlike an adventure into a haunted mansion. These performers have the ability to make this ballet feel like we are attending a very ambitious Broadway musical. There may not be any songs, but that is not so uncommon anymore on Broadway.

As the second act excitingly ends, with tremendous amusement, so does the story. Now we are going to savor a third act dessert. With their beautiful costumes Sara Esty, Emily Bromberg and Jennifer Lauren are paintbrushes creating memorable images as they spin and glide across the stage. Though Swanilda’s six friends might have had moments of unevenness in the beginning, by the end of the evening, their contribution significantly impacted the performance.

Unlike several of ballet’s most popular works Coppélia has a wonderfully hummable score by Léo Delibes. No notes are wasted in telling the story; and the musical jubilance of the third act makes the celebration all the more uplifting. Conductor Gary Sheldon is another of MCB’s treasures as he subtly guides Opus One Orchestra with a musical contribution that matches the onstage glory. Skip Coppélia at your own peril.

Coppélia will be presented in Palm Beach at the Kravis Center April 13-15. I got a couple things planned for that weekend. Maybe I will cancel them and go to Palm Beach for another dose of this instead.

Jeff Haller



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